Saturday, February 26, 2011

An encouraging post and link on storytelling

Many thanks to Jane Friedman for her post "You Hate Your Writing? That's a Good Sign!" In her blog, she links to a four-part interview with Ira Glass (it's quite short) that is just excellent. Parts II and III were particularly awesome. I highly recommend it! Especially if you, like me, struggle with knowing what you want your writing to be compared to what it is now.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My new favorite book on writing

My new favorite book on writing is Thanks, but This Isn't for Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your WRiting is Being Rejected, by Jessica Page Morrell. She's witty, yet brutally clear. Fun, yet helpful. I haven't read a ton of truly brand new information, but I did see some of my own mistakes described in there, already inspiriing some revisions to my work-in-progress.

I also feel very affirmed as a writer. You might remember how in my last post, I confessed to feeling a bit like a faker because I can't seem to write organically very well like my writing idols? And how Anne Lamott (who is quoting E.L.Doctorow) describes writing a story like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. Actually, I remembered it as driving through fog, so it's entirely possible someone else in the writing world compared writing to driving through fog, seeing a tiny bit of the story at a time. And now I'm trying to use a story board, plotting all my plot points in advance. It's FUN and I like it, but I also feel a bit like a heretic for doing it, even though I think it's working well for me.

ANYWAY! There is a point to this!

In Thanks, but This Isn't for Us, Ms. Morrell says, and I'm going to quote her here,
One bit of accepted wisdom that drives me crazy is when famous writers claim that writing is like driving in the fog without the headlights on and that you can make the whole trip that way. Who are they kidding? Driving without headlights in the fog is maddening and a hazard to other drivers. And what's the point of stumbling along clueless and blind as your shoulders tense at each approaching curve? I'm all for the writing process being fun and a way to express our deepest passions. But I believe in headlights and want to suggest you need a more working-class version of the writing life. You need to see yourself as a skilled laborer, not an artiste who awakes each morning wondering how best to flirt with your muse.

OH MY GOODNESS. I LOVED this. I loved it because it spoke to my deepest fear that I'm not really a writer because I don't hear from my muse and have my characters do all kinds of unexpected things while I watch, amused and amazed, from afar.

I still LOVE my idol-writers. Obviously, the organic method works for many, many people, so I'm not bashing it at all. But I'm a follow-the-rules kind of girl and I always thought writing this way was THE way to write, if you were a "real writer." Plenty of writers trash "plotting" as something that real writers don't do. That's all I had read about from the books on writing that really stuck with me.

Now I have a new book on writing to stick with me. :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My new story plan...

My new idea is coming together and I'm about to start writing...soon. I'm not quite ready. In the past, I always had a general idea, a main character, and then I'd set off writing. Some people call these type of people organic writer or pantsters, as in fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants. Many writers I admire tremendously write/wrote this way. Madeleine L'Engle, Stephen King, Anne Lamott. I wanted to be like them. I read Bird by Bird and On Writing to learn from them. And I tried to write like them. Only I'm NOT them and my stories never quite worked. Anne Lamott once described writing a story like driving a car through fog. You can only see as far as your headlights go, but you can travel across a long distance that way if you just keep driving. (Edited to add: Turns out she is quoting E. L. Doctrow, and then expounds on that idea-- it's on page 18 of Bird by Bird.) And Stephen King pointed out that since he never knows how his stories will end, it ensure his readers will be surprised, as well. He begins with a question, much of the time. What if... What if vampires take over a tiny town? And when you chase that interesting idea, you get Salem's Lot. I liked this. It works for some great writers. I did some What If questions and got a great question that I wrote a manuscript around but I never really got a good answer to my what-if question and the middle was lacking, too. It just didn't work for me.

Then I read several authors who swore that you couldn't write a good beginning until you knew where your story would end. Obviously some can and DO (so forget the blanket statements), but...hmmmm. Well, that made sense. When I write my passages for assessment companies, which, granted, are far shorter, I have to pitch the idea first and that includes what will happen. I go in knowing what will probably happen. Do my characters "come alive" and do unexpected things? Sometimes, but not like Madeleine L'Engle desribes. She and Stephen King both describe their characters like you and I would describe their friends, as people with a mind of their own. I still thought this sounded so great. So I was still internally resisting this idea of planning my novels. I wanted so much to be like my idols.

Then I stumbled on a blog about plotting a storyboard and from there found Alexandra Sokoloff's amazing site all about the three act structure of a good novel or movie. I've been reading a ton from this site and it's all been so fun. I literally don't watch movies the same anymore! My girls had Cinderella on in the living room while I was making dinner and I was thinking, "Hmmm...well, I think when the Fairy Godmother appears, that's the transition into Act II, because we are now in a magical world..."

And so....drum roll...I made a plot board! Yes! Because I'm a good little student who always does what the teacher says! But it's been really fun and I'm slowly realizing how much more likely it is that I will end up with a novel that actually WORKS as a complete unit, not a bunch of good scenes I like that are disjointed and simply don't add up to a solid novel.

I'm hopeful. And did I mention I'm having fun? Surely that's a good sign.

Here's after my first run of putting up my post-its.

Then, after talking about the world I'm creating with my husband and reading through more of Alexandra Sokoloff's site, I've added more thoughts:

Finding the time to sit down and begin writing feels more scary this way, though. Because I believe this COULD work...if I just don't mess it all up!